Brain tumors can cause both physical and mental symptoms. The symptoms can differ depending on the type, location, and stage of the tumor.

Common signs and symptoms of a brain tumor include:

This article looks at various symptoms of brain tumors, symptoms linked to different types and locations of tumor, and risk factors of each.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Brain tumor symptoms are similar regardless of whether they are cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). They may differ depending on the type, location in the brain, and the stage of the tumor.

Some of the most common symptoms of a brain tumor include:

Primary brain tumors are tumors that begin in the brain.

In the sections below, we look at several types of brain tumors and their specific symptoms.

Meningioma

Roughly one-third of primary brain tumors are meningiomas. They are typically benign and grow slowly.

They grow from tissue covering the brain and spinal cord and create pressure on these areas.

Meningiomas are rare in children and most common in females over the age of 60 years.

Symptoms of meningioma can include:

  • headache episodes
  • weakness in an arm or leg
  • seizures
  • changes in personality
  • vision problems

Glioblastoma

Glioblastomas are malignant tumors. They can grow quickly and require more intensive treatment.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, healthcare professionals assign a grade to tumors depending on how abnormal the cells they contain are.

Grade 1 tumors are the least malignant, and grade 4 are the most malignant. Glioblastomas are grade 4 tumors.

Glioblastomas create pressure on the brain, and symptoms can include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache episodes, which may be more intense in the morning
  • weakness in the body, such as in an arm, a leg, or the face
  • difficulty balancing
  • problems with memory
  • seizures

Astrocytoma

Astrocytomas are brain tumors that grow from cells called astrocytes, which make up brain tissue.

They can range from grades 1–4, with grade 1 tumors growing more slowly than grade 4 tumors.

Some early symptoms of astrocytomas can include:

  • headache episodes
  • memory loss
  • seizures
  • changes in behavior

Craniopharyngioma

A craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that develops close to the pituitary gland. It is much more common in children than in adults. Medulloblastomas and ependymomas are also more common among children.

This type of tumor creates pressure on the pituitary gland and optic tract, which is an extension of the optic nerve. This can cause the following symptoms:

  • delays in development
  • obesity
  • vision problems due to a swollen optic nerve
  • hormone problems

Pituitary tumor

Pituitary tumors develop in the pituitary gland and affect hormone levels. They tend to be more common in females and make up 9–12% of all primary brain tumors.

They grow slowly, though larger tumors can create pressure on surrounding areas of the brain. These tumors can secrete pituitary hormones and cause additional symptoms.

According to the American Cancer Society, tumors that start in the pituitary gland are almost always noncancerous.

Symptoms of pituitary tumors include:

  • headache episodes
  • vision problems
  • changes in behavior
  • changes in hormone levels

Metastatic tumor

Metastatic brain tumors, or secondary brain tumors, form in other parts of the body where cancer is present and move to the brain through the bloodstream.

Metastatic brain tumors present with the same symptoms as primary brain tumors, with the most common symptoms being:

  • headache episodes
  • seizures
  • short-term memory loss
  • changes in personality or behavior
  • weakness on one side of the body
  • difficulties with balancing

Symptoms of brain tumors can also be similar to those of other medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

Most of the time, a headache does not signal the presence of a brain tumor, and experiencing a headache by itself is typically not a cause for concern.

However, signs that a headache could be a symptom of a brain tumor include:

  • persistent headache episodes, particularly if the person has no history of severe headache episodes
  • headache episodes that increase in intensity over time
  • headache episodes that are worse in the morning
  • headache episodes that wake a person up from sleep

Learn more about possible causes of persistent headaches here.

Migraine

If a person experiences frequent or severe headache episodes, they may have migraine, tension, or cluster headaches. These can also create feelings of nausea.

Symptoms of migraine can range from mild to severe, and may include:

A migraine headache can last anywhere from 4 hours to a few days or even weeks.

Read about the possible causes of a headache with nausea here.

Tension headache

Tension headaches are typically mild to moderate, and symptoms may include:

  • headache episodes that build slowly
  • dull pain on both sides of the head
  • pain that can spread to the neck

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches cause severe pain and occur in bursts. These episodes can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Symptoms include:

  • pain on one side of the head
  • sudden pain around the eye area
  • swelling or drooping of the eye
  • feeling restless or agitated
  • watery eyes and nasal congestion
  • eye redness

MS

MS is a condition that affects the central nervous system. It can produce similar symptoms to those of a brain tumor. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • difficulty balancing
  • fatigue
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • numbness or tingling in the face, arms, or legs
  • weakness in the body
  • problems with vision

Less common symptoms include seizures, problems with speech, and hearing loss.

People should contact a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • seizures
  • weakness, numbness, or tingling in one side of the body
  • unexplained vision problems
  • communication difficulties
  • changes in personality or behavior

A doctor will take a full medical history and perform a range of neurological tests to determine what is causing the symptoms. For example, they may:

  • run CT scans or MRI scans to provide an image of the brain
  • conduct tests to check balance, vision, and coordination

If they locate a tumor in the brain, they may take a tissue sample, or biopsy, to find out what type it is.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience severe or frequent headache episodes. The doctor will be able to rule out any underlying causes and suggest lifestyle changes or treatment options.

If a brain tumor is present, treatment will depend on the type and stage of the tumor. Options may include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy to remove or shrink the tumor.

People should contact a doctor if they experience any of the symptoms listed above. Many of the symptoms overlap with those of other causes, and may signal another health condition.

Tracking symptoms can help a doctor determine a diagnosis. Keeping track of what time and how frequently symptoms occur can also help.

If a person does have symptoms that signal a brain tumor, early diagnosis and treatment are important to help prevent the tumor from growing.